Beauty's Duty

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Beauty's Duty
George Bernard Shaw 1934-12-06.jpg
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Date premiered unperformed
Original language English
Subject A man is outraged by his wife's views on love
Genre comedy of manners
Setting A solicitor's office

Beauty's Duty (1913) is a short uncompleted "playlet" by George Bernard Shaw. It is a dialogue between a man and his lawyer about the man's wife. The husband has traditional views on marriage. The wife is more idiosyncratic in her thinking.

George Bernard Shaw Irish playwright, critic and polemicist, influential in Western theatre

George Bernard Shaw, known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.




The husband tells his lawyer that he needs to legally separate from his wife. The lawyer says he has no grounds for doing so, as his wife appears to have done nothing wrong. The husband says she has some extraordinary ideas. She believes that her beauty and charm are such that men fall in love with her easily. Since she has a talent for making men love her, it would be wrong not to use her talent on as many men as she can.

At this point the solicitor's clerk enters and says that a beautiful woman has just arrived. The solicitor asks who she is, but the clerk says it would have been a violation of her perfection to ask her name. The husband says it must be his wife trying out her "talent" on the clerk.


In its fragmentary form, the playlet was not intended for stage performance, and was left in an incomplete state. It was not published until 1934. According to A.M. Gibbs the playlet is influenced by the characterisation of Mr. Guppy in Dickens' novel Bleak House . [1]

<i>Bleak House</i> monthly serial; novel by Charles Dickens; published 1852–1853

Bleak House is a novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a 20 episode serial between March 1852 and September 1853. The novel has many characters and several sub-plots, and is told partly by the novel's heroine, Esther Summerson, and partly by an omniscient narrator. At the centre of Bleak House is a long-running legal case in the Court of Chancery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which came about because a testator wrote several conflicting wills. In a preface to the 1853 first edition, Dickens claimed there were many actual precedents for his fictional case. One such was probably the Thellusson v Woodford case in which a will read in 1797 was contested and not determined until 1859. Though the legal profession criticised Dickens's satire as exaggerated, this novel helped support a judicial reform movement which culminated in the enactment of legal reform in the 1870s.

During World War II the BBC planned to broadcast it in Arabic translation on the radio as part of a promotion of British culture in Arab countries. A writer was commissioned to flesh it out and provide a clear beginning and ending. Shaw was sent the English version of the proposed full text in December 1943. He wrote back in February 1944, apologising for the delay by saying that he must have been "speechless with amazement" that the BBC thought this was suitable: "how anyone with the faintest conception of the difference between Arabia and Bloomsbury could contemplate throwing B's D at the head of a Bedouin passes my understanding". The BBC replied that they were sure it "would have admirably beguiled the Bedouins", but dropped the production. [2]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

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  1. Gibbs, A.N., "Heartbreak House", in Bertolini, J.A. (ed), Shaw and Other Playwrights, Penn State Press, 1993, P.131.
  2. Conolly, Leonard, Bernard Shaw and the BBC, University of Toronto Press, 2009, p.128.